Vestegnens Kulturuge 2016: forgotten giants and guerilla knitting

Update, Nov: spotted in our local library, a booklist from the six library services covering the topics of ghettoen, forstadsliv, de fremmede, to be or not to be and på den anden side – mainly Danish books, and very well done, but not traced online – seems a bit of a wasted effort

Fourth time of asking for our local festival, Vestegnens Kulturuge (2013 | 2014 | 2015), which ran from 9-18 September. Aimed increasingly at Familien Danmark, like so many festivities in Happy DK, with lean pickings for those not in that demographic. One news story even went so far as to highlight a classical concert as an event for those interested in ‘culture’, so kudos to Albertslund, offering a range of Hamlet themed events as the final part of its participation in the literary exhibition hall project, plus a kunstvandring.

While generally each of the six kommuner do their own thing during the festival period, Thomas Dambo’s Forgotten Giants project (Vestegnens Kulturuge) extended across the whole area, with six sculptures constructed over a period of six months. Made from recycled wood and built with the help of volunteers, the giants were hailed by local mayors as illustrating Vestegnen’s values: working together, recycling and volunteering.

In a sort of ‘because it’s there’ approach, we picked up our first giant in Ishøj back in June, mopping up the final one in our manor both under construction and at its fernisering. While the project did fulfill its stated aim of taking us to new parts of Vestegnen, it also showed off the bleakness of its over-planned nether regions, empty streets of low rise sprawl broken only by broad roads, reachable mainly by motorway or local train, with all traces of life hidden away.

Driving out to Høje Taastrup all the way down ruler-straight Roskildevej through a stretch lined with shiny sheds we could have been in the USA, an impression only reinforced by a pit stop at Wittrup Motel. Having located the giant via iphone (as well as being forgotten ie glemt, most of the sculptures are also hidden, ie gemt) we snapped it and exited, never likely to return. Sited in a low-lying marsh, now managed parkland, and a stone’s throw from the motorway, the background hum of traffic was ever present – a common problem in the area.

So let’s call it for an enterprising soul in Hvidovre who set up a Strik byen smuk project (broadly: Knit the city prettystory), which can’t quite be called for guerilla knitting due to its planned nature, but heck, this is Denmark, nothing happens without a plan. Mainly around the town hall, and taken down in no short order by Monday morning.

Knitting also featured in the 1970s themed Golden Days festival, also taking place during September throughout the Greater Copenhagen region. Ishøj library offered a session on Hønsestrik, a feminist inspired knitting movement kicked off by Kirsten Hofstätter’s 1973 manifesto, riffing on women as a flock of hens (høns) and dispensing with patterns. Rather more upmarket, the new Kähler i Tivoli enterprise hosted a knitting salon on the same theme.

Before you say: how hyggeligt, yes indeed, but the knitters, lucky with the weather (soggy knitting would not have been great), were plagued by thefts and vandalism, malicious or no, so some norms do apply. And interestingly, Dambo’s sculptures outside DK tend to have rather more edge.

Also running over the summer was Stemmer fra Hvidovre (Voices from Hvidovre; story | again | yet again | critique | response | again | again), egnsteater from Teater Vestvolden, a former children’s theatre gradually offering some rather more innovative productions. Taking the form of teatret i byrummet, the production was part of the current wave of site specific theatre. 40 people per performance were driven around the locality in a toy train in search of Hvidovre’s DNA, hearing stories old and new from a squad of 90 volunteers in a celebration of Hvidovre’s fællesskab (community spirit) and foreningsliv (participation in clubs and societies).

With schools in Denmark starting the new term in early/mid August Vestegnens Kulturuge represents a good opportunity to enjoy late summer, which tends to have rather better weather than the increasingly unreliable mass holiday month of July. As well as Golden Days it overlaps with a cornucopia of other festivals, including NaturensdagAeronautisk Dag, Mosensdag, Copenhagen Art Run (Vinkbh)…and with a clang of inevitability, Family Days.

Channel crossing at the Hook of Holland

On a chilly day at the end of April we took a train from platform 1 at Rotterdam’s super-shiny new station to the Hook of Holland. Our goal: Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport statue, Channel Crossing to Life, on Koningin Emmaboulevard. The statue, erected in 2011, is one of five memorials and commemorates the 10,000 Jewish children who crossed the Channel here during 1938–39.

Meisler’s other statues can be found in Berlin, Gdansk, Hamburg and London. They portray a group of five children, posing slightly differently each time. In the Hook they are joined by a sixth child looking out to sea – perhaps Frank himself.

Kindertransport statue, Hook of Holland

Our interest in the statues and their narrative started in September, when we spotted The Departure (2009) outside KFC by Gdańsk Główny station. We ticked off the London statue, The Arrival (2006), outside Liverpool Street Station in January. Update: The Final Parting (2015), on Dag Hammarskjöld Platz behind Hamburg’s Dammtor station, ticked off almost a year to the day after we saw our first Kindertransport statue. Just Berlin to go!

Inside Liverpool Street Station is a further Kindertransport memorial, Für Das Kind (2003) by Flor Kent, part of a second series of Kindertransport statues. This statue was originally displayed with a collection of objects now in the Imperial War Museum. Further statues in this series can be seen at Vienna Westbahnhof, Beth Shalom in Jerusalem and in Prague.

Monuments to displacement are quite commonplace – on our Dutch trip we also saw Jeff Wall’s Lost Luggage Depot (2001) on the quay in Rotterdam, while without trying I can come with three further examples: Rowan Gillespie’s Famine (1997) on Dublin’s waterfront, the Displaced Gdynian monument (2014) and Kristina (2000) on Amerikakaj in Copenhagen, where emigrant ships once sailed to the USA.

At the Hook it was too cold to do much more than look for the statue, but the town is worth a closer look. Situated at the mouth of the Nieuwe Waterweg canal and administratively part of Rotterdam, there are attractions on offer for both arriving Brits and for locals, branded under the slogan Get hoekt! The beach runs for 18km to Scheveningen, backed by sand dunes boasting foot and cycle paths and a naturist section. For military history buffs there’s Fort Hoek van Holland, a pre WW2 concrete fort tasked with protecting Rotterdam from invasion from the sea (surrendered to the Germans without firing a shot) and an Atlantic Wall Museum.

Ferries have run from eastern England to the Hook since 1893. The train chugs between its two railway stations which stand only 600m apart, the port station of Haven, with four platforms once used for regular international train services to Amsterdam, Germany and beyond, and the rather smaller Strand. From 2017 the stations will become part of Rotterdam’s extensive metro network.

Many have passed through. Patrick Leigh Fermor landed in the Hook at the start of his 1933 journey A time of gifts. Arriving in a taxi at London’s Tower Bridge on a rainy December afternoon, Paddy describes the scene:

I halted on the bridge just short of the first barbican and the driver indicated the flight of stone steps that descended to Irongate Wharf. We were down them in a moment; and beyond the cobbles and the bollards, with the Dutch tricolour beating damply from her poop and a ragged fan of smoke streaming over the river, the Stadthouder Willem rowed at anchor.

The steward serving dinner informs him that boats from the Zuider Zee had been unloading eels between London Bridge and the Tower since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

A couple of hours before dawn the Stadthouder Willem drops anchor in the Hook:

Snow covered everything and the flakes blew in a slant across the cones of the lamps and confused the glowing discs that spaced out the untrodden quay. I hadn’t known that Rotterdam was a few miles inland. I was still the only passenger in the train and this solitary entry, under cover of night and hushed by snow, completed the illusion that I was slipping into Rotterdam, and into Europe, through a secret door.

In his 2011/12 retread of Paddy’s journey Nick Hunt boards the Stena Hollandica, a “vessel the size of a small town”. And indeed ships of that scale can be seen ploughing across the Channel and down the canal to Rotterdam, watched over by the boy from the Kindertransport:

Kindertransport statue detail

Albertslund: utopia in a Danish suburb

The Vestegnen municipality of Albertslund was created out of bare ground on fields west of Copenhagen in the 1960s and 1970s to a 1957 ‘garden city’ masterplan. Named after a French count who fled to Denmark in 1802 and established a farm in the area, the kommune‘s coat of arms features a vaguely Gallic looking cockerel.

Until 1973 the new municipality was known as Herstederne, after the villages of Herstedvester and Herstedøster. Other subsumed villages include Vridsløse and Risby, all to the north of the business end of things in Albertslund Syd.

Albertslund Syd

the Albertslund Syd masterplan

Albertslund is on the Roskilde – or index – finger of Copenhagen’s 1947 Finger Plan. Separated from neighbouring Brøndby by an industrial zone lining some wide roads, a large area is taken up by Coop Danmark’s headquarters. A further 60% of the municipality is covered by forests and green areas, including a hill created from construction detritus. The main transport arteries are Roskildevej and the B S-train line, plus the network of motorways which slices through Vestegnen’s otherwise continuous sprawl.

Suburb or town? The dream of creating a ‘cradle to grave’ town was in full swing when Albertslund Syd was constructed. The population grew from 3000 to 30,000 over a period of eight years, and today is around 27.7K. 61% of housing is social, income per capital is low, immigrant count is high. Has Albertslund succeeded in establishing its own identity, a place you would visit even if you didn’t live in the area?

The town centre was put together from the standard checklist of station (1963), town hall (1971), cultural house (1974/1996; now MusikTeatret), library (1974/2004) and church (Opstandelseskirken, 1984), plus obligatory shopping (unlike most shopping centres on Vestegnen open to the elements). Walking around on a Sunday in late February, when Denmark is at its most bare and bleak, there was a definite buzz, with people going around their business and a fair number of cafes actually occupied. Two elements help create the feel of a place – the use of canals in the streetscape, making an attraction out of the rainwater drainage system, plus some interesting (and mainly successful) public art.

canal in the town centre

Strictly zoned, with a network of roads and bike/pedestrian paths and a good selection of under/overpasses, the centre gives way on one side to three storey blocks and on the other to clusters of small one-storey gårdhuse and two-storey terraces in an almost Hobbit scale landscape built over a period of three years. Emphatically – and unusually – low rise and high density, with an accompanying lack of horizon, this area feels inward focused, invisible and almost apologetic, although some open spaces have been created by staggering the terraces.

Typically for the time only white, black and grey were used, to allow the residents to add their own personal touch. Equally typically, the gardens are private, with windows facing the street or common areas. With today’s eyes these decisions have led to monotony and uniformity, but at the time it all seemed exciting and new, offering more than ample space, light and air. Less happily, by 1974 it was clear that the roofs were leaky, leading to a drawn out tagsage (roof case; story), renovations costing a total of DK 25 million and 50% rent increases in 1978.

Albertslund Bibliotek is currently hosting Utopia, a multi-media exhibition and associated activities, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. Supported by Kulturstyrelsen, the exhibition is one of three in libraries in the Greater Copenhagen area rethinking the library as Det litterære Udstillingshus (the literary exhibition hall; Bibliotekarforbundet), blending literature, art and theatre. The exhibitions are touring the three libraries, with Ulysses, hot from Frederiksberg, next up in Albertslund, and Hamlet from Helsingør arriving over the summer.

from the utopia exhibition in the library

As well as the exhibition the library is offering utopian reading lists for all ages, a newspaper, a sound experience, the diary entries of a refugee fleeing Utopia and holed up in the library, and two events, one offering readings from More’s Utopia accompanied by hurdy gurdy. I particularly enjoyed the musings of the refugee emanating from behind 1970s style radio-cassette players stationed around the library. He had fled Utopia for its lack of diversity, challenge and stimulation – which could lead us on to an examination of Denmark, the world’s happiest country, as Utopia, but for today I’m staying in Albertslund, a rather different Denmark from the current hype.

And there are things going on. Forbrændingen, a music venue in an old incinerator next door to the district heating plant with its iconic 80m high chimneys, is a regional draw. The council is a frontrunner in environmental issues, in particular the use of innovative lighting and smart city solutions. With the ship of the self sustaining functional city having long since sailed, new connections are coming in the shape of light rail (ETA: 2023), picking up where the 1947 Finger Plan left off with Loop City. And yes, Copenhagen is only 17km and 20 minutes by train away. Albertslundruten, Denmark’s first cycle superhighway, has been speeding people into the city since 2012.

MusikTeatret lends an almost big city feel

Has the confidence and optimism of the 1960s perhaps resulted in a more lasting experience than the more modest projects of the immediate post-war period? Or is it the fact that Albertslund started from a blank sheet, rather than adapting what it already had, the key to its success? If what turns a new town into a town rather than shading into a suburb is innovation, diversity and change, Albertslund rather surprisingly has it, and I would certainly return.

From Albertslundssangen, seen in the underpass by the station:

Du er dagen du er vejen, du er drøm og poesi
du er badesøen som jeg svømmer i når jeg har fri
Du er frihed du er fængsel, du er kærlighed og længsel
du er glædens, du er vredens grund
du er alting Albertslund.

See my Flickr album for more.

Sources and further info: Albertslund får sit navn | Albertslund Syd er kulturarvDet utopiske Albertslund | DOLL Living Lab & En gave fra Albertslund til resten af verdenGåaftstand goes City walking in Albertslund | Kroppedal Museum on Albertslund | Litterære udstillinger: hvad kan man forvente? | Somerset House’s Utopia season & London Design Biennale | Sound Settlements: Albertslund Syd | Utopian events: Albertslund: en utopi bliver til & Hvordan ser utopien i Albertslund ud | libraries and the high brow: the exhibitions critiqued

Valby Fortællinger: stories from Valby

Here’s a look at some new public art in my favourite part of Copenhagen, Valby.

The community council’s Valby Fortællinger project is now complete, with a gallery of gavlkunst (murals and other art on the sides of buildings) erected around the area over the last eighteen months or so.

Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s poem regn søvn blå kys at Herman Bangs Plads works rather better in the dark:

gable end, Herman Bangs Plads

at night the poem is displayed in neon, with the word blå (blue) in blue

Ditto Morten Søndergaard’s Drømmegavl (Gable of Dreams; it’s won a prize!) at Boligforening Gadekærvej, 600m2 of aluminum inscribed with 117 dreams out of 350 submitted by the block’s 203 households. Examples of the residents’ dreams:

I’m dreaming about winning the lottery…about Bosnia and Herzegovina…about my neighbour…

gadekær or pond is a stable feature of old Danish villages. Many have fallen victim in the urban context (Hvidovre’s is now somewhere under the motorway), and the Valby one has been filled in, but the area has recently been landscaped with baby hillocks, lollipop trees and benches, which will have to do.

Round the corner in Pigekvarteret seven streets with girls’ names have been adorned with small decorations created by Mette Hannemann – meet Sylvia, Blanka, Laura, Cæcilia, Lukretia, Beate and Valborg:

Beate (maybe?) seems to have gone missing, but we have the other six, each with a different character based on discussions with the locals:

Finally, not content with having a street named after her, Danish silent movie diva Asta Nielsen has just acquired her own piece of light art, a poem written by local resident Eva Tind on the wall at Valby Langgade 44B. Now one of two branches of upscale supermarket Irma on the street, until 1960 this was the site of Valby’s theatre and cinema (story) :

#citylinked: from CPH to Embra and back again

Update (already!), 30 Oct sees City Link CPH/FRB: Reimaging the city, kicking off at lovely Novozymes. Somewhere‘s walk on Nordre Fasanvej has some appeal: ” The tour will stop at selected locations, where the clashes in this diverse area are most obvious, to talk about what creates a good city, gentrification and about art’s possibilities in an urban space such as this.”

City Link (Facebook | Twitter) describes itself as a “co-creating network of artists, activists, cultural entrepreneurs, researchers and people with ideas that link cities”. Launched in 2012 as a project between the ‘cultural communities’ of Copenhagen and Hamburg, I came across it last year via partner GivRum (Facebook), and was piqued to discover that their 2015 festival would be held in my home town of Edinburgh. But being the wrong side of 40 *coughs* I don’t think I’m in the target group:

The festival aimed to “explore how we can create more sustainable and democratic cities”. Organisers included Carol Hayes, purveyor of Culture Pie (FacebookTwitter), now at GivRum. Update: reviews by Richard Williams | Stacey Hunter.

On the programme:

Picked up lots of nice Scottish urban stuff, not least Creating Places Scotland and Creative Embra‘s Desire Lines project. It’s particularly interesting to compare the Scottish context with Danish discourse. Edinburgh is ‘my’ heritage, and putting it into the urbanist perspective may help me engage more with the Danish. Meanwhile, it’s notable that most Scottish organisations present an engaging public face, with blogs, newletters, Twitter etc. Danish ones mostly…don’t. And regarding engagement in urban planning this side of the pond, the Hvidovre bymidte case is more my experience.

The City Link Festival weekend also saw the climax of the 25th outing for Edinburgh Doors Open Day, with talks, walks and tours. Copenhagen doesn’t do open doors and isn’t part of the Open House family, sadly, although some similar events are held as part of Kulturnatten (Culture Night), this year on 9 October. Instead there’s Arkitekturens Dag (Architects Day), covering the whole of the country. The 2015 outing on 1 October, with the theme of “creating via sharing”, includes urban interventions and pop-ups, more walks than you can shake a stick at, finally (plus a run, Arkitekturlobet in Aarhus), and trips to some old favourites (and not so favourites):

  • Irmas Kaffetårn i Rødovre – built in 1968 by Bent Mackeprang and Thorkel Klerk and listed in 2014, the iconic tower is to be the heart of Irma By, a(nother) new housing development
  • 8-tallet – residents give insights into daily life in 8-tallet, built to be a community; is social living the way forward for life in cites? (note: due to the number of tourists eyeballing the development, there are now “no entry” signs outside)
  • Panum og Mærsk – #brutalism klaxon! SUND, the Faculty for Health at CPH University, inhabits the Panum Building (1975), shortly to be joined by the Mærsk Building (planning guidelines on building high seem to be increasingly ignored these days)
  • visit to the Villum Window Collection in Søborg, simply because…
statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen, at Edinburgh's East End

statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen, at Edinburgh’s East End

Vestegnens Kulturuge 2015

Third time out! See my posts on 2013 and 2014. This year’s Vestegnens Kulturuge (programme | Facebook), the local arts festival, took place from 4-13 September. Sadly with no Brøndby or Glostrup this year, but with events across six kommuner to the south west of the Copenhagen council area (Hvidovre, Rødovre, Albertslund, Vallensbæk, Ishøj and Høje-Taastrup).

Vestegnensruten

Vestegnensruten: marathon route around six kommuner

It being International Year of Light the festival had the over-arching theme of light art, with a joint project entitled Lys over Vestegnen (Light over Vestegnen) projecting six beams of light, one per kommune, into the sky after dark. The six beams met over Vestegnen as a symbol of their joint effort.

A further joint event saw the Vestegnensruten marathon route relaunched, with starts and a range of activities in each of the six kommuner.

Other than that there was little to tempt outside Hvidovre, with the programme dominated by family friendly actvities rather than cultural events. Despite best efforts Vestegnen doesn’t hang together as an area, but remains six separate entities joined by transport corridors.

Three events in Hvidovre of note. Forstadsmuseet’s Poul Sverrild gave a lecture about Avedøre and its contribution to local cultural heritage: “Vi ser dem hver dag som selvfølgelige. Vi ser dem måske i virkeligheden slet ikke. Men de er vores kommende og nuværende kulturarv. Bygningerne og det menneskeskabte landskab. Vores forstad Avedøre, som måske er by – måske land – måske noget helt tredje? Avedøres historie er nemlig noget helt særlig.”

Two events made a stab at realising Hvidovre’s ‘filmby’ branding. Open Air Film saw a film café in Risbjerggård showing archive films about the area and a feature film on the grass outside, while Stage your mind saw the realisation of the Innosite competition on the grass (see article):

 ’Inside the Camera & An Unknown Bird', artwork and seating area in one!

David Musaelyan’s ’Inside the Camera & An Unknown Bird’, artwork and seating area in one!

The Edinburgh police box

I bagged two old Edinburgh police boxes on my visit in December:

It turns out they are a thing! Next sighted on a post on Urban Ghosts, which led me onwards to Planet Edinburgh’s cultural historyThe Edinburgh Reporter’s collection and Malcolm Irving’s gallery.

My box was the Barnton Box. I could have sworn it wasn’t there the last time I passed, nearly three years ago, but Wikimedia Commons has a picture from April 2006, and here’s now, or at least June 2014, courtesy of Google Street View. It looks rather unloved. (And WTF is going on with the Barnton Hotel and the petrol station?)

It just goes to show how you stop noticing things when you walk past them every day. Now I just need to find an older picture with the 20 bus stop outside, maybe a 1970s Google Street View, with me, my brother and my mother waiting for the bus.

Next time there’s a sell-off I might even be tempted. After all, there’s a red phone box in the garden of a house at Friheden, so why not an Embra police box too? (Turns out you can rent a phone box, should you want to.)

a red phone box - now how did that get there?

a red phone box – now how did that get there?

And what do you know, this weekend sees the Edinburgh Police Box Festival (@Edinburgh_box; #policeboxfestivalFacebook; mapstory), celebrating this iconic piece of street furniture and its new eclectic uses. Now that’s what I call a festival.

Update, 14 August: and now there’s the Embra police box book, aka From cuffs to community by Dane in Edinburgh @Photina_dk. I’m sure it’s gorgeous osv, but at £25 that’s Danish prices. You can take the girl out of Denmark…